Category Archives: weather

Back to the Stone Canyon Trail

Top of the Stone Canyon Trail on Mt. Lukens

At the deepest part of the creek, the cold water reached mid-thigh. I’d futzed around looking for a way to rock hop across Big Tujunga Creek, but didn’t find one.

With squishy shoes, I followed the trail eastward along the creek. A little past Stone Canyon wash, the trail turned toward Mt. Lukens and started to climb.

Chaparral whitethorn along the Stone Canyon Trail
Chaparral whitethorn

The Stone Canyon Trail is one of the trails on my list of trails less-traveled. Today, the trail choice had been between the Stone Canyon Trail and Condor Peak Trail. Recalling the difficulty of the Condor Peak Trail, I thought it would be better to do Mt. Lukens first, and save Condor Peak for later.

As I worked up the trail, I marveled at its condition. It was in surprisingly good shape! It had been groomed relatively recently, and I mentally thanked the person or group that had taken care of the trail. With a clear trail and cool morning temperature, it felt good to push the pace up the steep trail.

Stone Canyon from the Stone Canyon Trail
Stone Canyon

The last time I’d done this route was in November 2016. That outing followed five years of drought. With growth suppressed, the upper half of the trail was only moderately overgrown, and I did not see any poison oak. Ever the optimist, I thought today’s conditions might be even better.

Remnants of scrub oak burned in the 2009 Station Fire
Remnants of scrub oak burned in the 2009 Station Fire

Not this time. I don’t know if Winter rains or the pandemic had intervened, but about halfway up the peak, the trailwork abruptly ended. The upper half of the trail was badly overgrown, and at inconvenient times Spring-green poison oak lined the trail. In a few places, fallen scrub oak trees — burned in the Station Fire — were mixed in with the brush. Where the 2016 ascent had been after a drought, today’s followed a wet period in which three out of the past four years have had normal or above-normal rainfall.

Prickly phlox along the Stone Canyon Trail
Prickly phlox

With care, patience, and a bit of bushwhacking, I eventually reached the top of the Stone Canyon Trail and the old dirt road on the west side of the peak. A few minutes later I stood alone on the summit of Mt. Lukens. I had not seen anyone on the ascent and would not encounter anyone on the way down.

Here’s a 3D Cesium interactive view that shows a GPS track of the route up and down the Stone Canyon Trail on Mt. Lukens. The view can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. Placemark and track locations are approximate and subject to errors.

Related post: Mt. Lukens, Then and Now

Castle Peak, Chatsworth Peak and Oat Mountain from Lasky Mesa

Castle Peak, Chatsworth Peak and Oat Mountain from Lasky Mesa

Clouds, sun and shadow accentuate the rugged topography of the northwest rim of the San Fernando Valley.

Castle Peak is the rock-capped summit on the left of the photo. Chatsworth Peak (2314′) is in shadow and behind Castle Peak. The prominent rock bands are Chatsworth Formation sandstone formed more than 65 million years ago. Oat Mountain (3747′) is the sunlit peak in the distance.

From a run on Wednesday at Ahmanson Ranch.

Some related posts: The Cave of Munits and Castle Peak, Castle Peak, Snow on Oat Mountain

Los Angeles’ On and Off Rain Season is On Again

Clouds over a ridge west of Las Virgenes Canyon

Following a December with twice normal rainfall, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) experienced the fourth driest January-February on record. Now it seems the spigot has been turned back on, and March rainfall for L.A. might very well be above normal.

As of 3:00 p.m. today, March 13, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded 2.05 inches of rain this March, boosting the rain year total (since July 1) to 9.40 inches. This is about 75% of normal for the date.

More rain is forecast over the next week or so, but the major weather models differ on the projected amounts. To make up for the January-February rainfall deficit and finish the rain year close to 100% of normal, Los Angeles needs another 5.5 inches of rain by June 30.

Not impossible, given some of the forecasts, but that would be a lot of rain for this time of year. Well see!

Update July 6, 2020. Remarkably, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) ended the rain year, July 1 to June 30, within 0.07 inch of normal rainfall. It was a tumultuous rain season that saw copious rainfall in December, and then almost none in January and February — usually the wettest months of the year. Just when we started to think “drought,” the wet weather returned. Combined, Match and April precipitation was 221% of normal. That and a little rain in May brought the Los Angeles rain year total up to 14.86 inches, just short of the normal of 14.93 inches.

Update April 12, 2020. Over six consecutive days, from April 5 to April 10, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) recorded 2.96 inches of rain. This is about 325% of the normal amount for the whole month. The precipitation totals of 14.66 inches for the rain year and 14.63 inches for the water year are now above normal for the date and within about one-third of an inch of the normal annual rainfall for Downtown Los Angeles.

Update April 10, 2020. April rainfall picked up right where March left off.  As of April 9, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded 2.80 inches of rain this month. This is more than three times the normal amount of rain for the entire month of April. This brings the rain year and water year totals to 14.50 and 14.47 inches, respectively. For the first time since February 1 the rainfall totals for Los Angeles are above normal for the date. Los Angeles is now within a few tenths of an inch of normal rainfall for the year, and it is still raining today.

Update March 24, 2020. On March 22, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) set a new rainfall record for the date of 1.51 inches. As of March 24, Downtown Los Angeles has recorded 4.35 inches of rain this month. This is 179% of the normal amount of rain in March. The current rain year/water year total of 11.70/11.67 inches is about 88%/90% of normal for the date. The magic number for 100% of normal rainfall is 14.93 inches — either by June 30 (Rain Year) or September 30 (Water Year).

Update March 17, 2020. As of March 16, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded 2.80 inches of rain this month. This already exceeds the normal amount of rainfall for the entire month of March, which is 2.43 inches. The current rain year/water year total of 10.15/10.12 inches is about 79%/81% of normal for the date.

Malibu Canyon to Saddle Peak, Topanga Lookout, Calabasas Peak, and the Secret Trail

Corpse Wall and other rock formations along the Backbone Trail near Saddle Peak.

The range of temperatures had been remarkable. At the Secret Trail trailhead in Calabasas, where I left my car, it had been a balmy 60 degrees. Near the start of my run from the Tapia Trailhead in Malibu Canyon, it had been a very chilly 32 °F. Near the end of the run, the temp topped out at 79 °F. That’s SoCal Winter running!

On the way to Saddle Peak, I was surprised to see how wet it was on some sections of the Backbone Trail. There has been very little rain this January, but marine layer dew, the trail’s north-facing aspect, the low sun angle, the canopy of bays and oaks, and relatively cool temps have kept the trail damp. In places it looked like it had just rained yesterday.

Elevation profile for trail run from Tapia to Secret Trail via Topanga Lookout and Ridge.
Elevation profile for trail run from Tapia to Secret Trail via Topanga Lookout and Ridge.

Because there’s about 1000′ less elevation gain, I usually do this run in the opposite direction, starting on the Secret Trail and ending at Tapia. This is the route described in the venerable guidebook, 50 Trail Runs in Southern California. But I’d run it in that direction a bunch of times — so here I was, chugging up the Backbone Trail, nearing the end of a 2600′, seven-mile climb from Tapia to Saddle Peak.

The area around Saddle Peak is yet another spectacular section of the Backbone Trail. (There are so many!) Just west of the peak, the trail winds through a narrow passage with massive sandstone rocks on either side. As the trail levels out, there is a short spur trail to the peak’s antennae-infested summit.

Even if a little obstructed, views from the top extend to Catalina, Boney Mountain, Mt. Pinos, and Mt. Baldy. Sometimes San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak can be seen beyond Mt. Baldy. The round trip to the summit of Saddle Peak adds about 0.8 mile. The eastern summit is slightly lower, but no antennae obstruct the view.

Getting to Saddle Peak from the Tapia trailhead is relatively straightforward, if a bit strenuous. Getting to Calabasas Peak and the Secret Trail from Saddle Peak is not as simple.

The “normal” way to get from Saddle Peak to Calabasas Peak would be to run back down the Backbone Trail to the Stunt High Trail and then follow that trail to the parking area on Stunt Road. Calabasas Peak Mtwy is across the highway and slightly downhill (west) of the parking area and leads to Calabasas Peak and the Secret Trail.

If doing the regular route, note that the Stunt High Trail crosses Stunt Road twice on the way down. In each case turn right and follow the road east about 100 yards to pick up the trail on the other side of the road. There are also various side trails to avoid.

Calabasas Peak from Topanga Lookout Ridge.
Calabasas Peak from Topanga Lookout Ridge.

I had been planning to do the regular route, but as I was returning to the Backbone Trail from Saddle Peak, it occurred to me there was a way to avoid backtracking. Instead of turning left on the Backbone Trail and descending to the Stunt High Trail, I turned right and continued east, past the water tank, to the Lois Ewen Overlook. From there, I ran over to the Topanga Lookout and then scrambled down Topanga Lookout Ridge to Calabasas Peak Mtwy.

This option is more adventurous, but requires good route-finding skills and being comfortable clambering down a rocky ridge. This 3D Cesium interactive view shows a GPS track of my route. The yellow track is today’s route. The red track is the usual route between the Backbone Trail and Calabasas Peak Mtwy. The view can be zoomed, tilted, rotated and panned. Placemark and track locations are approximate and subject to errors.

Scrambling down the ridge put me at “The Bench,” at the junction of Calabasas Peak Mtwy and Red Rock Road. This is a little more than a mile from Calabasas Peak. Once on Calabasas Peak, it was only about 0.6 mile to the top of the Secret Trail, and from there about 1.3 miles of mostly downhill running to the trailhead.

With about 4000′ of gain over 14 miles, it was a demanding route, with challenging route-finding and a fun scramble down a rocky ridge. Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Topanga Lookout Loop, Plus Saddle Peak; Secret Trail Variations; Secret Trail to Calabasas Peak

Chilly Rocky Peak

Rocky Peak following a cold Christmas storm in 2019.
Rocky Peak

Rocky Peak Road is one of my go-to wet weather running spots. The sandy soil — thanks to the Chatsworth Formation sandstone — doesn’t cake on your shoes when it’s wet. It isn’t entirely mud-free, but as long as you don’t mind a few steep hills, it’s a good choice when the weather turns wet.

According to preliminary rainfall totals tabulated by the NWS, Rocky Peak recorded 1.22 inches of rain during the Christmas storm. The snow level had been forecast to drop to 2000′-2500′ in some areas, so as the storm was breaking up I headed over to Rocky Peak to get in a run, and see what I could see.

I’d dressed for a cool and breezy run, and was comfortable as I worked up the first steep hill. But I hadn’t run half a mile when I stopped and put on some gloves and a pair of stretch shorts. That helped, but the higher I went the colder it got. Up top, a little past Rocky Peak, my thermometer registered a chilly 38 degrees and the wind was gusting 10-15 mph. According to the NWS Wind Chill chart, that put the effective temperature at around 30 degrees.

And that’s what it felt like. Part of the problem was that I was running into the wind, which increased the chill. I had a wind shell in my pack, but once I’d reached my turnaround point and had the wind at my back, it wasn’t needed.

San Gabriel Mountains following a cold Christmas 2019 storm.
Mt. Lukens, Mt. Disappointment, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Lowe.

There was no snow on Rocky Peak Road or Oat Mountain, but from time to time the setting sun broke through the clouds and highlighted the snow on the nearby mountains. It was a far different scene than on the usual Rocky Peak run.

December has been wet in the Los Angeles area. As of December 27, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded 4.84 inches of rain this December, which is nearly three inches above normal. Rain year and water year precipitation totals are also well above normal, and at the moment, ahead of last year. We’ll see what the new year brings!

Update January 24, 2020. Well, the new year hasn’t brought us much in the way of precipitation. January in Downtown Los Angeles has been about as dry as December was wet. So far, Downtown Los Angeles has recorded only 0.32 inch of rain this January, well below the climate normal for the date. If there is no additional rain this month, Los Angeles will end the month with about normal rainfall to date for the Rain Year (Jul 1 – Jun 30) and Water Year (Oct 1 – Sep 30). Then we’ll have to see if there is a pattern change in February, or if it is also drier than normal, as most guidance suggests.

Related post: Snow on Oat Mountain (2008)